Why Do Military Divorces Happen?
Military marriages have additional levels of challenges. Deployments. Frequent moves. Lack of career stability for the military spouse. Times of uncertainty and lack of communication. The military spouse taking on family responsibilities alone. Loneliness and frustration for both the service member and the spouse.
Before we talk about why military divorces happen, let’s see what military divorce statistics show about how often military divorces are happening.
According to the Pentagon, even though there has been a slight decline in military divorce rates among enlisted male soldiers, it’s hard to compare with divorce in the general population, because the numbers are collected differently.
“ … the best way to track whether a military divorce rate decline is underway is to look at the largest subgroup — enlisted male soldiers. In 2009, the divorce rate among that group was 3.3%. Since then, it has fallen to 2.7%, according to the newly released data.
‘There’s been no drastic changes; there’s been the continuation of the trend toward very gradual declines in military divorces,’ B.R. Karney, a researcher, said in an article comparing marital status and divorce status in civilian and military populations.
The rate of divorce among female officers and enlisted troops has historically been more than double that of their male counterparts. That remained true in 2018, with 6.3% of female troops’ marriages ending in divorce over the year, compared to 2.6% of male service members’ marriages.
But what the Pentagon’s divorce statistics do not reflect are the challenges placed on military marriages after transition back to civilian life. While Karney said he has heard researchers say they want to investigate those trends, he knows of no such study currently underway.”
When we are analyzing the military and divorce, we discover specific issues that usually contribute to problems in the military marriage that can lead to divorce, even after active or reserve duty is over.
Below are the conclusions of a substantial study conducted by the NIH (National Institute of Health) about the emotional toll of divorce on the actual service member in the military:
“Recent divorce was associated with screening positive for new-onset PTSD, depression, moderate weight gain, tobacco and alcohol use. Despite these findings, recent divorcees were more likely to be physically active and deploy compared to those who remained married. These data suggest that recently divorced service members should be screened for mental health and behavioral risk factors to improve their overall health and readiness. Given the negative health repercussions of divorce, future studies should identify factors associated with divorce in the military setting to reduce the development of these outcomes.”
(Read the complete study)
The study mentions that there are similar negative health outcomes after divorce for the military spouse at home as well.
Long and frequent deployments tend to have an adverse effect on military families and, according to USA Today, are the biggest contributors to military divorce rates, especially with couples married prior to 9/11.
A study published in the Journal of Population Economics concluded, “that the length, conditions and risks of deployment are sources of shocks to the value of military marriages.”
During the continuing Afghanistan war, multiple deployments often wreak havoc on military marriages. Those serving were often in very dangerous and stressful situations. Those at home often think to themselves, “being alone or being a single parent for this long and this often is not what I signed up for.”
Often the spouse at home is struggling emotionally as much as the spouse on active duty.
The bonds that form in military units are stronger in some ways than the bonds in other kinds of work relationships. Soldiers in training or in battle units depend on each other for survival. They feel disloyal or guilty if they want to leave the military or go home on leave because they know their unit depends on each person doing his or her part.
Those in the military (and other first responders) are often under extreme stress every single day. Every patrol or every answer to a call for help is potentially a life-threatening situation. It’s often hard to turn off the adrenalin rush that becomes a normal part of a soldier or first responders life. That can leave them edgy, agitated and less able to relax when at home.
Even during duties that don’t require personal confrontation of an enemy, military leaders are responsible for the care and safety of the people below them in the chain of command. Daily decisions can make a life and death difference. That’s a level of stress that most of us thankfully never have to face, but is an everyday reality in the military.
That’s why in some situations, it is hard for those in the military to come back home where daily decisions are much less consequential. Often the service member can’t understand why their spouse is making such a big deal about something so insignificant. (Like what color of couch to purchase!)
Veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD have reported significant marital difficulties. Studies have shown that nearly 50 percent of their marriages end in divorce and that they are three times more likely to have multiple marriages end in divorce. Understanding PTSD and its Effects on Marriage – Psych Central
“He (B.F. Karny) said it is hard to speculate whether the stress of military life causes high divorce rates after transition. For example, stress from the loss of military benefits could cause relationship challenges that lead to divorce, but that would not be a direct result of service.”
“All else being equal, when you leave the military and you lose those benefits, it might make those marriages fall apart,” Karney said.
Should I Get A Divorce?
Because active duty military marriages can be emotionally draining and challenging to both spouses, the marriage itself usually takes more effort to maintain and keep healthy. If there are long separations, emotional trauma, physical injuries and psychological problems, the situation may be even more precarious when it comes to your marriage.
Deciding whether to get a divorce, when either you or your spouse is in the military, can be even more difficult than the decision to divorce in a civilian marriage. If your spouse has been or is deployed and away from home, there can be guilt and other emotions that add to your confusion about deciding to divorce. You may also hesitate to inform your military spouse that you are considering divorce while he or she is in deployment.
If you or your military spouse is considering divorce, get help! Talk to a counselor before you do anything else. There are resources available to active duty personnel and also to military spouses.Take advantage of those free divorce resources. https://www.military.com/spouse/relationships/military-divorce
Military Divorce Process
If you are in the military and you want a divorce or your spouse wants a divorce, again, get help! Talk to other military spouses. The military divorce process has specific rules and protocols for divorce while serving your country and for spouses of service members.
Learn about the steps and regulations that apply to your specific military situation. Talk to an attorney who is well-versed in military divorce specifically.
Finding Your Identity
With military divorce, as with any divorce, rediscovering yourself as an individual should be a goal after divorce. The military divorce is different from civilian divorce as far as the process goes. Military divorce requires the same recovery work that has to happen to get over any divorce.
Whether military or civilian, after divorce, we have to do the grieving and healing we need to do. Only then can we really focus on figuring out who we are on our own and what kind of life we want going forward.
Most of us, when we look out into the future during divorce, all we can see is this terrifying black hole of uncertainty. So instead of trying to fix your whole life right now, start asking yourself this one question …. “What can I do today to get closer to the life I want?” You can’t fix everything today, but every day you can do something in the right direction.
That’s what our year-long Divorce Recovery MasterPlan and Community provides. We connect you with an encouraging group of women from all over the world who are all somewhere on the divorce recovery journey. Plus we provide continual resources and tips and tools to help you keep moving forward every day. We don’t let you stay stuck. We are there with you for a whole year.
Take a look at our MasterPlan. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself and you deserve it.
And as I said, as a small thank you for your service to our country, either as a service member or a spouse, we give you 10% off of our MasterPlan resources. Make an appointment for a free conversation, and we can explain what to put in the promo code to get the discount.
And again, from the bottom of our heart, thank you for your service.